July 24th, 2013


Thoughts on story length and romantic realism

 This began as a comment in [personal profile] unbroken_halo 's journal. She was complaining about being asked to show her characters falling in Insta-Love. She felt that it was more realistic for them to start from a place of lust and only develop their emotional connection and desire for long-term commitment after they'd acted on the physical attraction - that men especially think "yeah, I'd tap that" before any feelings of "omg I want to spend the rest of my life with you" develop, if they ever do.

There's a discussion that could happen about the gendered assumptions there, but this is not that discussion. Leaving that entirely aside, I agreed that physical attraction coming before romantic connection is both plausible and frequent, but romance-as-a-genre isn't necessarily about that - it's about the emotional payoff of the HEA, and sometimes that means making the story about having ALL THE FEELS. And so we kicked it around a little, and here is my comment that I want to share with you:

Oh, and you've got the constraints of a short story! It's definitely harder to move your couple to their HEA without insta-love if you've only got limited space to do it in.

For the one m/m short story I've sold, (ed.: "Lost and Found in the Pacific", coming out from Torquere in September) I didn't start the men at their initial meeting. I introduced them as established BFFs and the story arc went through crisis situation, to reveal of desire/declaration of love, to the consummating sex scene, and wound up with a promise of commitment. I don't think I consciously planned this -- these two were, for all practical purposes, AUs of a fannish OTP of mine and their romance arc has always been friends-to-lovers, so I just set them in their AU and figured out where their friends-to-lovers turning point was in their new life stories, and wrote about that. If I'd been doing it at a longer length, I could have followed them back to their initial meeting, or even to the POV character's story before he met his other half, and I could have extended it beyond their promise through the obstacles they have to overcome before they can settle down and make a life together -- these are TOTALLY novel-length boys, and they want me to write them a detective series AFTER they settle down so that I can keep writing about them without making their relationship the source of all drama and peril. It's like photography, in a way, where the most important part is composition: deciding what to show.

In the novel, the men's relationship arc as a couple, from meeting to what they thought was an end, took up the entire first half of the book -- fourteen chapters. Mildly antagonistic meeting in the first chapter resolving into mutual respect, attraction developing in the second and third chapters (one from each of the men's POVs), chapters four and five pursuing the acquaintance to where they could establish that the attraction was mutual and take it to the bedroom, and then the next nine showing the relationship growing beyond the physical as the emotional connection deepened, even as they knew that they couldn't expect forever, until the point where they always knew they'd had to break it off. That's nearly 40,000 words. The next 40,000 follows Guy #1 with the girl, brings #2 back and creates HIS relationship with the girl, and finally brings them all together.

I don't think you can do an arc like that in a short story, any more than you could take my M/M couple from the short story through their first meeting, to their declaration of love over a year later, and then through about three more years of obstacles until they reach a settled-down HEA in the space of under 20,000 words. Okay, MAYBE in 20,000 words if I compressed it pretty heavily, but it would be uneven. It'd flow a lot better if I started before their meeting and gave them plenty of detail and gave them, oh, 65,000 words to show it all.

First meeting to HEA in a short story? It's GOING to be stylized and artificial.

This is a thing that I did not know until I wrote it down, so I wanted to put it here so I'd remember it.
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